Workers’ statement on suspending hunger strike – ‘We have only begun to fight’

11 06 2008

“We Have Only Begun to Fight”

Collective statement by the Indian Workers’ Congress, read by Sabulal Vijayan

June 11, 2008

Today, after 29 days, we are suspending a hunger strike that has brought us more power than any group of H2B guest workers in the United States has ever had. We began our fast on May 14 in front of the White House to expose the ugly reality of the guest worker program. We demanded action against the criminal trafficking ring of Signal International and its US and Indian recruiters. We demanded that the Department of Justice grant us freedom from the terror of deportation and give us continued presence in the United States so that we can participate in the criminal trafficking investigation against Signal International.

Because of the power of our hunger strike, 18 members of US Congress have written to the Department of Justice to demand continued presence on our behalf. The chairs of two committees in the US House of Representatives have also urged the Department of Justice to take this case of human trafficking very seriously. Congressman Dennis Kucinich has committed to holding hearings into abuses of guest workers by Signal International and companies like it. Our allies from Jobs With Justice and the labor movement have written more than 9,000 letters to US Congress on our behalf.

We have the confidence to suspend our hunger strike today because we have faith in these allies to fight alongside us until the traffickers are brought to justice.

But our victory today is not yet complete. On March 6 we took courage in our hands and escaped Signal’s labor camps. We could have disappeared, but we chose to come forward to report the company to the US Department of Justice. We sacrificed our ability to work and be with our families for the sake of bringing Signal and its recruiters to justice. We risked our lives with a hunger strike for the sake of future workers.

Why did we do this? Because we thought we were in the land of liberty, because we had faith in the Department of Justice. We expected the DOJ to follow the laws that Congress has enacted to protect people like us. We demanded what the US law demands: that survivors of human trafficking be given the legal protections necessary to pursue justice without fear.

But the DOJ ignored us. They refused to act on our behalf. Our requests for basic protections under the law, for continued presence in the US, were ignored. We were subjected to surveillance operations by immigration authorities, and humiliating and terrifying interviews.

Because of the Department of Justice, our lives are on hold. We are paralysed. We live in constant terror of deportation. We cannot work. We cannot see our families. We cannot provide for our families. We are listening to our children grow up over long distance phone calls. We have not been able to attend the funerals of our mothers and fathers in India. Because of the DOJ’s inaction, our lives are in limbo.

Meanwhile Signal International is not on hold. Their business is not in limbo. They continue their operations in the Gulf Coast, they continue to get government contracts and make profits while we sit paralyzed. The Department of Justice lets a criminal trafficker carry on its business – while the workers who had the courage to report Signal crimes are treated like criminals.

But others are listening to our call for justice. Eighteen US Congressmen and three committee chairs have heard this call and supported us. Organized labor has heard this call and supported us. The civil rights community has heard this call and supported us. Faith leaders have heard this call and supported us.

We have faith in our allies and place our hopes in their hands. We believe that with the help of US Congress, organized labor, and civil rights and faith leaders, our power will continue to grow until the Department of Justice until it offers us the protection we need to bring the traffickers to justice and to protect all future workers.

So after 29 days we suspend our hunger strike – to give the Department of Justice time to wake up to the calls of 18 members of Congress, and leaders in the religious, civil rights, and faith community. We are waiting.

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